Liverpool supporters are quick to point out the disparity between the club’s glittering history and the relative lack of a similar tradition at Chelsea. Going into tonight’s semi-final first leg the London club will be acutely conscious, not merely of the inferiority of their record over the longer term, but of more recent history and two previous defeats against Liverpool at this stage of the Champions League.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea fixtures have acquired a deeper resonance since Roman Abrahamovich’s arrival at Stamford Bridge. They represent a clash between football royalty and the game’s nouveau riche. Their character was further sharpened by the personality clash off the field between cerebral Spaniard Rafa Benitez and Chelsea’s brash Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho.
Paradoxically, with the more measured Avram Grant at the helm, Chelsea may be better equipped to withstand the fevered atmosphere of a Champions League semi-final. Benitez has suggested as much and is both wary and respectful of his counterpart. On this occasion Chelsea will enjoy the advantage of home advantage in the second leg, something which Liverpool have benefited from in both previous clashes.
Nevertheless Liverpool’s previous experience reaching the final, and indeed winning, the world’s premier club competition, should instil a degree of self belief in the Anfield reds. Benitez has been quick to point out the comparative strength in the current squad as opposed to the team from 2005 who famously won the competition. He is also realistic enough to apprehend the extent of Liverpool’s task and the manager has been quick to identify Chelsea as favourites to win the tie.
Tonight Liverpool must ensure that they add to a history which Chelsea can only impotently aspire to.